October 25, 2016 § 1 Comment

The first frost rimed the roofs in my neighborhood this morning. A praying mantis clung to the porch wall, moving only a leg to let me know she was still alive when I prodded her with a tentative finger. Cold.

I haven’t seen many mantids this summer, and worried that landscaping changes had eliminated their colony. Seeing this poor, sluggish creature clinging to the brick delivered a mixture of cheer to know they were still around, and dismay that she would soon lay her eggs for the autumn and then die. I’ll remember her when I see her children in the spring.

But this isn’t about her. This is about something new and permanent. Something that will die only when I die. 

I have a Significant Birthday coming up in February. To celebrate, I decided to give myself a gift I’ve been wanting for a long time: a new tattoo.

I have, by my count, four previous tattoos. My first tattoo is the moon and stars symbol that appears on the back of the 10,000 Maniacs album, In My Tribe. I’d like to tell you that I got it because that album touched a match to the kindling in my liberal soul, but I’d be lying. The music did do that—especially Natalie Merchant’s honeyed vocals on their cover of “Peace Train.” (You won’t find it on In My Tribe anymore; after Cat Stevens supported the fatwah against Salman Rushdie, the band struck the song from later pressings. You can still find it on YouTube, however.)

Anyway, I didn’t get the ink because I liked the band; I got it to impress Ellen, an elfin beauty way out of my league, but who nevertheless befriended me in my first year of college. She was the first stunningly beautiful woman to do that, and I fell for her hard. It never worked out, but I got a tattoo out of it. And a new car, but that’s another story.

That was in 1991? ’92? Christ, I can’t remember. I do know when I got the second tattoo: September, 2005. I met a bunch of Browncoats from all over the world—Australia, Canada, the UK—and from all over the US. We met in Las Vegas and watched the Serenity premiere together, then got inked by a dude in a tattoo parlor on one of the shadier Vegas streets. We all got the same tattoo; the kanji for “serenity.” (I was also dumb and asked him to “touch up” my first tattoo, and he fucked it up. Lesson learned: always, always, always research your tattoo artist before you get inked. Never get inked on the spur of the moment.)

I had that crappy tattoo touched up and improved by a good artist back home, and designed something to go around it. So that was my third tattoo, in May of 2007. Then in July of the same year, I went back and got the third tattoo touched up, and had then had him put a Celtic design around my first tattoo. So that was number four.

I like all of my ink well enough, but one thing I’ve been wanting was to have an artist design something just for me. So for my upcoming Significant Birthday, I decided that’s what I would get.

It didn’t start that way; I was going to get the center of my first tattoo covered, and the only thing I could think of that would do it was a silhouette of Godzilla’s head. I have a weird connection with Godzilla (also a story for another time), and I’ve been wanting to have him inked on me in some way. Then I found an image that inspired me to get more than a small silhouette.

When I mentioned it to friends, I received a half-dozen recommendations for tattoo artists. My first pick was Andy at Flying Tiger Tattoo in Pleasant Ridge. He did work for my friends Aaron and Anneliese, and their ink is beautiful. And Andy was close to places I hang out at a lot, so I figured I’d talk to him and see what he thought.

Andy’s favorite style is the Japanese style, and since Godzilla is rooted so firmly in Japanese culture, it seemed like a natural fit. I couldn’t picture it, but I trusted the recommendations of my friends, and Andy’s portfolio proved he does amazing work.

Still, I was nervous when I went in for the first appointment. Andy draws the day of, and doesn’t show you the artwork in advance. I imagine that’s to keep from getting mired in endless “but can we change this a little? and maybe that?” loops. Regardless, I knew I’d either have to love it or tell him I didn’t like it, because you have to love what you’re going to wear on your skin for the rest of your life.

Turns out, I needn’t have worried. Andy showed me the design, and my jaw dropped. It was amazing! And an hour or so later, it was part of me. Well, the outline, anyway; after it’s fully healed, I’ll go back for the color. I can’t wait.

Tattoos are personal things. Some people don’t get the why of it, and that’s fine. For me, a tattoo has to mean something. I think that’s true of most people who get inked, actually. Like scars, tattoos are physical reminders of a specific point in time, as well as a statement of who you are and what is important to you. They’re the illustrations in the storybook of your life.

Like all good stories, you have to suffer a little for them.

The new ink, fresh off the needle. (Photo credit: Tracy Borcherding)




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